.Classic ‘Glass Menagerie’ Staged in Napa

One of the most-produced American plays ever is The Glass Menagerie. Since its debut in 1944, it has had seven Broadway revivals, two major Hollywood films, two major TV adaptations and countless regional and community theater productions. Napa’s Lucky Penny Productions is presenting the Tennessee Williams classic at their Community Arts Center through May 5.

If one somehow doesn’t know the story of restless Tom Wingfield (Benjamin Stowe), his histrionic mother Amanda (Titian Lish), his fragile sister Laura (Pilar Gonzalez) and charming gentleman caller Jim O’Connor (Max Geide), this production is a good introduction.

With such a storied history and a high level of audience familiarity, it is difficult to make this show feel fresh. Yet Lish’s portrayal of Amanda accomplishes just that. She plays the shattered debutante, now matron, with complete conviction in Amanda’s fantasy world. Her “jonquil’s” speech with its implications of Amanda’s true nature is all the more heartbreaking as she skillfully finds and then buries those implications without missing a beat.

Lish’s Amanda leaves no doubt as to where the mental illness and despair that impair Laura and strangle Tom are inherited from. For once, Tom’s annoyance at his mother for flirting with Jim is completely deserved. Lish’s Amanda is a real threat to her daughter.

Stowe’s Tom has some good moments but tends to shout his anger instead of portraying the simmering rage to which he keeps referring (with an unnecessary mic exasperating the issue). Geide plays The Gentleman Caller well. He is appropriately boisterous and uplifting but never quite finds a way to make the role his own. Gonzalez, like most ingenues cast to play the complicated role of Laura, struggles to bring complexity to the character.

Lish, however, somehow finds a way to make Amanda the central sympathetic character.

The set design by Barry Martin also has some striking and unique (in a good way) aspects, most notably the clever way they brought the fire escape into Lucky Penny’s small theater space. The forced perspective on the fire escape is functional and useful, immediately challenging the audience to question reality. Similarly, the costumes by Barbara McFadden ride that thin line between the fuzziness of memory and the truthfulness of the era, which is a difficult feat to pull off.

One might go so far as to say that in giving us some fresh perspectives on this classic play, Lucky Penny has “some tricks in their pockets and things up their sleeves.”

‘The Glass Menagerie’ runs through May 5 at the Lucky Penny Community Arts Center, 1758 Industrial Way, Napa. Thurs–Sat, 7:30pm; Sun, 2pm. $28–$38. 707.266.6305. luckypennynapa.com.


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